In 1988 Wasteland was released and was the game to bring a new setting to the genre as it was the first post apocalyptic RPG. Wasteland is like a sacred game for the old school gamers and a sequel was something that everyone wanted. The game did receive numerous spiritual successors one of which is Fountain of Dreams in 1990 and also Wasteland is considered the father of the Fallout series which started in 1997.
More than twenty five years have passed since the release of Wasteland, but the waiting is over, the sequel is finally here!
In April 2012 inXile launched a Wasteland 2 crowdfunding campaign which became one of the first video games to raise a big sum through Kickstarter (after Broken World’s success), setting a precedent for the future RPGs. The campaign rose more than three times over the initial goal, ending up with over 3 million dollars to be used for development. On top of this, the game hit Early Access and the money gained from selling on Steam were also used in development.
Many of the team members of Wasteland and Fallout 1 & 2 were assembled to work on this project, including Chris Avellone and the composer Mark Morgan. Brian Fargo, the CEO of inXile and director of the project, kept a close connection with the community, posting screenshots and asking for opinions which helped shape some of the visual features of the game.
In September 2014 the game was launched after a delay of almost a year and with more than nine months of Early Access on Steam.
The Wasteland action takes place in 2087 in an alternate timeline where the world has been ravaged by a global nuclear war that took place in 1998. Some remnants of the US Army have found refuge during the war in a prison in Arizona and over the time they became the Desert Rangers, a military group set on helping and defending the survivors of the war in the area.
The story of Wasteland 2 is set 15 years after the events of the first game. The player’s characters start in front of the Ranger Citadel as freshly recruited desert rangers part of Echo Team and attend the funeral of one of the veterans by the name of Ace. After the funeral, the player’s team is tasked by General Vargas, the leader of the rangers, with the investigation of Ace’s death and of a strange radio signal which speaks of “man and machine becoming one”.
After inspecting the radio tower area where Ace was killed, Echo team receives two distress calls through the radio from two different locations which have serious problem. The players have to choose between helping Ag Center an agriculture area attacked by mutated plants and animals or Highpool a small settlement at the top of a dam which provides water in the region and is now attacked by bandits. It is up to the players to choose who to help and the decision taken will affect the gameplay and evolution of the story. The Rangers will face numerous problems everywhere they go and have to make decisions that will have an impact on the area, but that doesn't mean you can’t be a coward or an ignorant and just walk away (they should revoke your badge for this!).
On their way through the Arizona wastelands, Echo team will face all kind of people, some eager to help and others trying their best to stop them. Some of the wasteland’s inhabitants even want to join the ranks of Desert Rangers and they could prove as valuable help in the quest for law, order and justice in the area (the propaganda!). While none of the characters that join your group engage you in conversation during the game, each has their own personality and backgrounds and these can be seen throughout the game as they comment the events they assist at or exchange dialogues with people they know.
When the strange radio signals have been traced, the player’s team will leave behind Arizona in a state they dictated by their actions and travel to California to the city of Los Angeles where new challenges await them.
Wasteland 2 does its best to depict a world that is not colored in black and white by putting a great accent on choices and giving players a lot of liberty in the way they want to solve any situations they come across. The missions and the choices are not the only things that set the story and atmosphere of this game. The world of the game opens up for those who care to see the carefully placed details, your characters’ observations about what they see are notified in the text UI (a typewriter) and some of the things can be seen only if you pay attention.
|Oldest job in the world still kicking!|
The radio is not used only to communicate with the ranger’s leaders about missions but it is also a big part of the story telling as it captures all kinds of frequencies and allows you to hear what others have to say. Some of the things you hear on the radio build up the story and help you form an impression about certain conflicts and problems.
The story relates a lot with Wasteland (which I didn’t play), bringing back areas like Darwin City, Ag Center, Highpool or Rail Nomads Camp and many important characters from the first game like Snake Vargas, Angela Deth, Thrasher and many others. However, newcomers should not worry, because the game does a good job (for those who care to find out) at explaining the story and presenting the characters so that everyone is up to speed with what’s going on in this world.
|I wonder who's responsible for this?!|
The gameplay of Wasteland 2 is based on storytelling and dialogues, having a novel like design, but it is also based on tactical combat, finding secrets, exploration and not to forget humor (so much of it!).
The amount of text and dialogue in this game is overwhelming and skipping any of it would be insulting to the game because it is a big part of the gameplay experience and a lot of effort has been put into it. The dialogue system is interesting and fun, while talking to an NPC certain words that have relevance for the rangers will be highlighted (like tags) and will become available as new dialogues with that NPC. There are also skill check dialogues which allow solving a certain conversation with the help of some of the three talking skills in the game (smart-bad-kick ass). Last but not least, there are decisions that can be made through dialogues, at the players’ will, which pushes the conversation or action through the desired direction.
The dialogues system in Wasteland 2 is interesting with well written text and full of humor, but for a game of this caliber I would have preferred a system like the ones used in Fallout 1, 2 and Planescape Torment, which allows the players to dictate the personality of their characters through the dialogue choices they make.
|This guy puts my i5 to shame!|
The world of Wasteland 2 is separated in two different areas, Arizona and Los Angeles. Both maps are huge and offer a large number of areas to explore and secrets to find. The game has a map travel system which allows players to travel to set locations or discover new ones by exploration, there are many hidden areas and secrets to be discovered and exploration is indicated because it represents a big part of the game. Moving to any set point on the world map requires water which is a resource that you can deplete, finding oases to refill your canteens is important, otherwise your party might die of dehydration. Another important factor is radiation which can cause severe damage if moving through it without a suit.
While traveling on the map, random encounters can occur, which can be either finding a friendly vendor or running into some foes. The combat encounters can be skipped with the help of the outdoorsman skill.
|A little radiation can't stop my team!|
The game takes advantage of the isometric camera and uses a tactical turn based combat system with action points (like many traditional RPGs) with destructible cover and a lot of vertical action. Characters can take cover behind objects, crouch for better aiming and higher chance to avoid being hit, aim for the head or even wait behind a corner to ambush advancing the enemies. Strategy and proper target picking are required as well as a good combination of weapons, because this game is extremely hard (I played it on Ranger difficulty) and some of the encounters will test your team to the limits.
There is a large variety of enemies in this game, from raiders to mutated wild life, robots, synthetics and many more and to deal with all these problems, players have an entire arsenal at their disposal (progressively). From melee weapons like blades and hammers to the standard shotguns, assault rifles, sniper rifles and RPGs or even energy weapons, all in different forms with different attributes and fire modes in such a way that there is a weapon for every situation. Most of the weapons in the game are upgradeable so their performance can be enhanced to be even better suited for a certain type of combat.
|Guns! Lots of guns!|
|He doesn't look friendly.|
While all of these are good features, the combat system has some serious issues. The AI sometimes acts crazy and makes no sense, enemies can shoot through some of the walls, weapons jam in a single fight multiple times even if they have a chance of 2-3% of doing that, the pathfinder gets your characters stuck and fighting in a door proves an impossible task as your characters sometimes refuse to pass or shoot the enemies in the next room. But probably the most frustrating thing that puts the combat in a bad light is the fact that there is no party formation and because of that you get caught on the wrong foot in combat with your snipers in front and your melee and shotgun users behind.
|Positioning is everything.|
|Good luck with this fight!|
The skills system used in the game is as basic as you can get, being split in attributes and skills. Attributes points are gained one every ten levels and they directly affect characters’ combat or general stats by increasing chance to hit or critical hit, health, carry weight, initiative, action points and many other. Charisma also has an impact on recruiting new members to your ranger’s team.
The skills are spread into three different categories and are what you need to properly use or upgrade a weapon, fix broken things, open a locked safe or a door, offer medical treatment to your party or any strangers you find in need of medical attention, talk your way in or out from certain situations, crack walls, disarm alarms and traps and even “talk” with animals.
The game choices system doesn't stop with the story and is used even in the way you put your characters skills to work. You find a strong door that you can’t open maybe you blow it up with a rocket, but why not test your lockpicking skill and maybe enter in an old fashion way, if not you might want to check the surrounding area because there might be a wall that you can kick down using your brute force. These kinds of situations are everywhere in the game and you can adjust to them based on your team skills. (Tips: don’t ignore the repair toasters skill!)
While leveling my characters I felt a dire need for a perks system like the one seen in the old Fallout games, which allowed your characters to be more specialized in what they were doing and made leveling a character way more interesting and exciting. In Wasteland 2 with enough points spent in intellect (which increased the number of skill points gained per level) you can easily specialize your characters in three to four different skills and by the end of the game you can have access to absolutely everything, a game design decision which I think affects replayability in a negative way.
|The power of intelligence.|
All the things you need to know about your characters, the dialogues and characters remarks, the inventory and the combat commands are put together in a responsive and easy to navigate UI that fits perfectly with the whole game.
Wasteland 2 was created using Unity engine, a powerful graphic engine which is very popular between small studios that don’t have the resources for an in-house one. Despite the amazing level design and attention to every detail on the map, Wasteland 2 graphics are far from today’s standards with many washed up textures, low quality models and lack of graphical effects. It’s a shame, because inXile had the engine to make this game look absolutely amazing (not like graphics are the most important thing in this kind of RPGs).
Even so, Wasteland 2 has a clean and pleasant look and uses a color pallet that fits the world and atmosphere really well (colors saturation can be changed).
|LA looks better than Arizona.|
The music of the game was composed by Mark Morgan, a composer well known by RPG enthusiasts for his work in Fallout 1, 2, NV and Planescape Torment. The ambient music is beautiful and well picked reflecting the situation of each zone.
The curse of any RPG from the past that focused on complexity (Fallout 1, 2, PST, I keep mentioning these games a lot) follows Wasteland 2 as well (not a big surprise). The game is riddled with all kind of problems. There are many quests and dialogue bugs that can stop you from progressing in missions, especially in the second half of the game. By the time I started the Hollywood area, I was creating a new save(besides quicksaves and autosaves) every half hour and I was carefully advancing step by step and this still didn't help me (beware of Hollywood is the land of the heathen quests).
Besides the expected questing bugs, which are hard to avoid in a game with so much dialogue and multiple choices, many players have been complaining of frequent crashes and in some of the areas the fps is questionably low. I had to play the game with horrible screen tearing because the v-sync refused to work no matter what I did (apparently common for nvidia users).
But I was prepared for this and I tolerated all these problems, because I wasn't expecting a perfect game on the technical part and most of these issues will be fixed in the months to come. What I expected from Wasteland 2 was a captivating game and considering it kept me hooked for the 81 hours that I needed to finish it, with more than 40 hours in three days.
|Bros before ...|
|I'm so glad I can't open this!|
Wasteland 2 was a complete RPG experience offering an interesting story, great post-apocalyptical atmosphere, huge (HUGE!) attention to details, enough quality text to fit in two books, choices that don’t succumb to the right and wrong system, challenging combat, lots of humor and enough bugs to keep my frustration level high.
I enjoyed the time spent with this game and I plan on replaying it after it receives some more fixes so I can find out what could have happened if my choices were different.
Wasteland 2 is the closest game to original Fallout series that I got to play since Interplay sold the rights to their franchise. Is a true labor of love and this shows in almost every aspect of the game and this game should have real chances for a GoTY 2014 award.
I hope inXile will start developing more RPGs in the close future and i can’t wait to see how Planescape: Tides of Numenera will turn out, which is currently under development.
+ Huge attention to details
+ The choices system
+ Great atmosphere, capturing the magic of old school RPGs
+ Great itemization, with lots of weapons, armors and funny items
+ So much great written text could make books envy it
+ The story
+ Thematic UI
+ 80+ hours of gameplay
+ Large variety of enemies
+ Many factions, each with different traditions, goals and problems
+ High difficulty
+ The radio
- Basic skills system
- Pathfinder and AI problems
- Combat system lacks some important mechanics
- Average graphics
- Various technical issues and bugs
- (Subjective) I would have preferred a more interactive dialogue system in which the personality of my character(s) could be reflected